Hisashi Iwakuma is one of baseball's best


If the season ended right now (5:48 p.m. ET), the Mariners would be in the playoffs, tied with the Angels for the two American League wild-card spots, a half-game ahead of the Orioles. They're 31-28, just beat the Braves for the second time in Atlanta, have won five in a row and are 22-14 since starting the season 9-14.

Yes, it's the season of parity, but the Mariners aren't a complete fluke -- their run differential of +25 is tied with the Angels for third in the AL behind only the A's and Blue Jays. They're also 22-17 against teams .500 or better, having played the fourth toughest strength of schedule so far. The point isn't that this is a team without flaws -- I mean, Lloyd McClendon batted Willie Bloomquist and Endy Chavez one-two in Wednesday's 2-0 victory -- but that their record so far hasn't been created by some freakish good luck.

Hisashi Iwakuma was Wednesday's star, tossing seven scoreless innings, carving the Braves i[ like the free-swinging hackers they tend to be. The Braves were 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in plate appearances ending in a splitter -- a pitch every bit as wicked as Masahiro Tanaka's splitter, minus the media coverage. Here:

Batters versus Iwakuma's splitter: .133/.133/.183, 20 SO, 0 BB

Batters versus Tanaka's splitter: .125/.142/.183, 48 SO, 2 BB

"I knew I needed to focus more than regular games because of the heat," Iwakuma said about pitching in the 84-degree weather (hey, compared to Seattle ...). "I was just trying to focus and get quick outs to go deeper in the game and that's what I was able to do."

Iwakuma needed to shut down the Braves because McClendon threw out one of the sorriest lineups you'll see with Bloomquist, Chavez and Stefen Romero, who entered the game batting .204/.256/.345, in the cleanup spot.

By the way, Iwakuma joined the Seattle rotation on July 2, 2012. Here are the AL ERA leaders among starters since then:

Iwakuma -- 2.66

Max Scherzer -- 2.88

Felix Hernandez -- 2.94

Yu Darvish -- 3.04

Alex Cobb -- 3.05

Chris Sale -- 3.08

David Price -- 3.22

James Shields -- 3.23

Ultimately, the Mariners need Iwakuma and Hernandez to continue dominating and hope that the lineup can get more consistent. The Mariners are tied for last in the AL in batting average at .238 and rank last in on-base percentage at .300, but they have been able to raise their game with runners in scoring position, hitting .256/.319/.422. Now they just need to hit better with the bases empty and get better production from the fifth spot in the rotation (Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer have both been terrible there) and it may be an interesting summer in Seattle.